International Ice Hockey Federation

And Chu to finish

And Chu to finish

Veteran star flies American flag

Published 24.02.2014 00:31 GMT+4 | Author Martin Merk
And Chu to finish
The Olympic cauldron is blown out, fireworks and the fountain on with the Bolshoy Ice Dome in the background. Photo: Nina Zotina / RIA Novosti
Selanne and Chu carry their team's banners as a spectacular Sochi closing ceremony offers a taste of Korea 2018.

The Olympic communuty honoured two veteran hockey stars at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics - and officially welcomed Hayley Wickenheiser as IOC Member.

Finland's Teemu Selanne and the USA's Julie Chu were selected as their nation's flagbearers in Sunday's final farewell to Sochi. The duo both picked up medals at the Games, with Selanne's bronze adding him to an elite club with gongs from four different Olympics and seeing him named MVP at what he promises is his farewell to the five rings.

Meanwhile Chu, for many years the most recognisable face of women's hockey in the U.S., won her fourth prize as Team USA took silver.

Wickenheiser, who was Canada's assistant captain as the women completed the first half of the country's golden double, followed up her flagbearing role at the opening ceremony with confirmation of her election to the IOC's athletes' commission during the Games.

With the formalities out of the way it was time to sit back and enjoy another spectacular journey through Russia's history and heritage. Where the opening ceremony explored a world as diverse as Tolstoy's novels, Soviet-era style and Anna Netrbko's singing, the grand finale took in more of the country's proud musical, literary and theatrical traditions in the company of big stars such as conductor Valery Gergiev, violist Yury Bashmet, pianist Denis Matsuyev and soprano Hibla Gerzmava born in nearby Abkhazia within sight of the Black Sea coast.

Perhaps the pick of the 13 different sections was 'the magic of the circus', as the Olympic rings were transformed into a circus ring, replete with acrobats, jugglers, tumblers and all the fun of the big top. Russia's long tradition of circus skills is world-renowned and made a fitting highlight for the grand finale.

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The dousing of the flame brought a flashback to Moscow 1980. That closing ceremony, although a low-tech affair by today's computer-enhanced standards, created one of the iconic images of its age as a giant 'Misha', the Games' smiley brown bear mascot, floated into the skies over Moscow to the sentimental strains of the song 'Do Svidanya, Moskva' (Goodbye, Moscow).

This time round Misha's polar cousin blew out the Olympic cauldron to the strains of the same melody, linking past and present. Much has changed in the intervening 34 years, and this year's show opened with an unexpected flash of self-deprecating humour from the hosts: when the dancers formed into the Olympic rings, the top right-hand circle remained closed in a nod to a technical glitch from the opening ceremony, before opening out to complete the familiar symbol.

This year's Olympic Games has exceeded expectation in many areas. The compact coastal cluster delighted athletes, officials and fans alike with its ease of access to venues, while the accommodation in the athletes' village was also more warmly received by those who stayed there than those who merely wrote about it. Then there were the 25,000 volunteers, whose friendly help - and at times service above and beyond the call of duty - ensured the event ran smoothly behind the scenes.

Among the satisfied hockey players, Sweden's Gabriel Landeskog said after the final: "I loved it. I think all the NHL players should play in the Olympics every time. It certainly wasn't a bad decision." Finland's Lauri Korpikoski added: "It's been an unbelieveable trip. It's a great tournament the guys are saying its the best facilities they've seen at an Olympics."

And George Gosbee, co-owner of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, tweeted: "Thank you Russia. You hosted one of the greatest Winter Olympics ever. So glad I made the trip over."

It was also a time to mark the closing of an Olympic cycle, which was symbolised by the turning of winter into spring - anticipating the Russian 'maslenitsa' festival which starts on Monday. A vast choir, including more than 1,000 children, accompanied Gerzmava in a hymn to a new age; an era which organising committee president Dmitri Chernyshenko described as the 'face of a new Russia'.

Although the closing ceremony brings one festival to an end, every ending marks a new beginning and preparations for the next Winter Olympics are already underway in PyeongChang, Korea. Accompanied by a traditional Korean folk instrument, the gayageum, a kind of 12-string zither which symbolizes the months of the year and the harmony between heaven and earth, and dancing cranes, a symbol of long life, the audience was treated to a glimpse of what awaits us in 2018.

Between now and then, of course, there are countless hockey stories to be told - starting in May at the next IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship - but at the conclusion of another absorbing 'best-on-best' Olympic tournament, it's already hard not to start imagining what new victories might lie ahead.


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